In Focus: The Brotherhood Trial: Is it almost over?

In Focus: The Brotherhood Trial: Is it almost over?

The recent decision by the military court trying 40 members of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) has triggered speculations as to the future of this case and the nature of its final verdict.

We must first clarify that despite common misperception, even on the part of the defense team, the court’s new decision did not entail dropping terrorism charges. What it did was press new “substitute” charges which did not include terrorism. It also modified certain charges against a few of the defendants. This in effect means that there are two sets of charges, the “original” and the “substitute” ones, which the Brotherhood’s defense team must now challenge.

But what are the details and implications of these new court decisions?

First, Khayrat Al-Shater and Hassan Malek received additional charges of “managing the group’s finances and investing in companies and institutions on behalf of the group.” The traditional charge of belonging to a banned organization still stands, which means that both Al-Shater and Malek could receive at least five-year prison sentences if they are found guilty.

Second, the court did not drop any of the money laundering charges against the 40 MB members.  The charges, were, however, divided into two parts: the first is related to defendants 1-21 who have been accused of money laundering through managing finances, investing on behalf of and in support of a banned organization.

The second applies to defendants 22-29 who are charged with money laundering through funding the first group and aiding them in investing it on behalf of the banned group. Five of these alleged financiers are being tried in absentia, the most prominent of them being businessmen Youssef Nada and the Syrian Ghaleb Hemmat.

Third, we must note that the new set of substitute charges do not preclude the older ones. What’s more, according to lawyer Ragae Attia, these new court decisions are unconstitutional. This is what triggered the withdrawal of some members of the defense team to protest the adjustments, which they say conflict with certain procedural clauses in the penal code.

If anything, the changes made to these charges express a confusion in the way the authorities have been dealing with the case, which has been politicized from the onset ever since the defendants were arrested in December 2006. The situation has been like this since the defense revealed the weakness of the prosecution’s case when it comes to witnesses or legal procedure.

It seems that the goal behind changing the charges was to distract the defense team, which will have to exert double the effort to get to grips with the case, especially considering its sterling performance throughout the year.

One could deduce that the recent changes are a prelude to a decision to reach a final verdict in the case following an entire year of evasion.  

It was no surprise that this confusion and the air of mystery surrounding these changes led to parallel confusion on the defendants’ side. Hence the MB’s second in command and the main suspect Al-Shater has asked his defense team to withdraw from the case in a bid to embarrass the court vis-à-vis public opinion and strip any subsequent decisions made by it of legitimacy. 
Some of the other defendants, led by Alexandria businessman Mohamed El Haddad, however, strongly rejected the suggestion.

In any case, it doesn’t seem that the decision to withdraw in order to embarrass the regime is appropriate. For one, those behind this type of lawsuit are impervious of such embarrassment. Besides, such a move may strip the case of the moral support it has hitherto acquired and public condemnation which could have exonerated some of the defendants and eased the pressure to which the group has been exposed for over a year.

The regime must know that its confrontation with the Brotherhood will not lead to their demise; not only because of their deep roots, but because they express the hopes and ambitions of broad sectors of society which stand against the subjugation and authoritarianism of the state.